Autodesk EAGLE PCB Design Software, Premium (1yr) - Review

Table of contents

RoadTest: Autodesk EAGLE PCB Design Software, Premium (1yr)

Author: yertnamreg1218

Creation date:

Evaluation Type: Independent Products

Did you receive all parts the manufacturer stated would be included in the package?: True

What other parts do you consider comparable to this product?: Altium, KiCAD, Orcad, etc.

What were the biggest problems encountered?: Changes to the ways tools operate, Bugs encountered while routing

Detailed Review:

I suppose I’ll start off this review by giving some context on my background and usage of EAGLE.  I’m Trey German and I’ve been using EAGLE for the past 10 years or so.  I’ve watched as features have been added and the software passed around to different owners.  I can’t count the number of boards I’ve designed with it including several of the Texas Instruments LaunchPad boards.  Until I was selected for this review, version 6 was the latest version I had used. I’m excited to give version 8 a try and will be doing the review on my Macbook.

 

(Edit: I completed this RoadTest using version 8.1.1.  After I completed my review EAGLE version 8.2.0 was released which may or may not address some of the issues I discovered)

 

Initial Impressions

 

When EAGLE is first fired up, users are greeted with a login to confirm their license.  After doing so the user is greeted with the standard control window.  Worried that the tool would require internet access each time it is started I disabled my Wi-Fi and restarted EAGLE which fired up without hesitation.  I’m glad Autodesk allows operation like this for times when I’m traveling without internet access. (Update: The tool requires login after a reboot)

 

The schematic and layout editors have a similar look and feel to previous versions of EAGLE, but there are some changes.  Icons for each of the tools have been changed and are higher resolution.  Buttons have also been added that link with other Autodesk services.  Zooming and panning seem ever so slightly different.  I wonder how much of the framework EAGLE is built on has changed?

 

Out of the box though, this looks and smells like previous versions of EAGLE.

 

 

 

Library Editor

 

Before we can start creating a PCB, we’ll need some parts.  I took a quick glance at the included libraries and there doesn’t look to be any major additions to the libraries that ship with the product.  No big deal.  Creating symbols and footprints is a standard part of any new PCB design.

 

When you open the library editor you’ll notice a new window that shows the parts, footprints, and symbols in the library much like a table of contents.  I like how this new feature allows users to get a high-level view of what’s available in each library.  There is also a new icon in the tool bar that allows users to get back to this view from the other editors in the library window.

 

The flow to create symbols, footprints, and parts hasn’t changed from previous versions.  The editors have the same look and feel that users of previous versions will be familiar with.  Overall the library editor is easy and efficient to use.  I much prefer it over many of the alternatives on the market.

 

Schematic Editor

 

Design Block

The feature I’m most excited about is the inclusion of hierarchical design.  EAGLE 8 implements this using what they call design blocks.  These are previously created schematics and optionally layouts that the user can instantiate like a single part.

 

After clicking the tool the user can select the block they wish to use in the above window.  From there they simply place it like a normal part. If the design block also includes a layout as the one above does, the parts will be pre-placed in the target projects layout.  I think this is a HUGELY valuable feature that can greatly speed up building out of commodity life support circuitry for many projects.

 

 

 

Adding Parts

Adding parts to a schematic is relatively straightforward.  Users follow the same flow they’re used to clicking the add part button.  In past versions users have been able to quickly skip through the libraries by pressing the first letter of the library they desire. This would automatically move the library window to the first library that starts with that letter.  In version 8 this behavior has been altered. Initially I was confused and frustrated with the new search system, but eventually figured it out.  The version 8 add part window will actually search either the library name OR the library description when a letter is typed. Additionally, the user can select which field it searches by clicking on one of the library names or descriptions before typing the letter they wish to search for.

 

Group Tool

In previous versions of EAGLE, the select tool would default back to the previous tool after a selection was made. This allowed users to quickly take action on the items they had just selected.  In version 8 of EAGLE, the tool requires the user to manually change the tool after a selection has been made.  I think professional users of previous versions of the tool will miss this feature as it does increase productivity.

 

Zooming/Panning

Past versions of EAGLE sometimes had problems with panning in the editor.  For instance, the editor would not allow the user to pan to the far edges of a design when zoomed in.  Initially, it appeared that this issue had been fixed in version 8. Zooming and panning is smooth and I would guess there have been some major changes to the graphic frameworks used to develop the product.  Ultimately though, the schematic editor still has problems with panning.  When working on a sheet sometimes I’m unable to pan up even though there are parts above the currently viewable portion of the schematic (notice the vertical scroll bar and the schematic thumbnail in the image below).

 

 

Pin Identifier

A welcome improvement is the addition of a pin identifier graphic.

When the user has the net tool active, mousing over the end of a symbol pin activates a green circle helping to annunciate the potential selection.  I think this is a great way to give the user some feedback on where a pin actually is in more complicated schematic symbols and I see this feature helping to reduce accidental no connect situations.

Slice Tool

The slice tool is a good idea that could use some improvement.  Its purpose is exactly what you’d think, to sever a line or net. Previous versions of EAGLE would require the user to delete a segment and recreate nets.  This wasn’t a big deal for a single signal, but an entire parallel bus could take some time.  This tool aims to alleviate that hassle.  The user simply draws a line after selecting the tool and any nets the line passes over will be cut.

My main complaint about this tool is how it leaves the ends of the nets.  Instead of separating them by one grid unit where they can easily be reconnected, the tool spaces them at a very small interval that isn’t even related to the grid settings.

 

Intersheet Movement

Moving parts between schematic pages, has been difficult in EAGLE for ages.  I was hoping to see some improvement in this area, but there is still no intuitive way to do this.

 

Copy/Paste

I was also hoping to see some improvement to the copy and paste tools.  In past versions, copy did not actually copy to the paste buffer. To do this, users needed to use the group tool before copying, even if it was only to select a single item. Perhaps there was/is a reasoning behind this behavior?  I can’t think of any though.  This behavior is the same in version 8.

Feature Request:

Power and ground symbols are trivial, but time consuming to make.  I’d like to propose a symbol creation tool/wizard built into the schematic editor that allows the user to pick a power or ground symbol and name the net associated with it.  When the user finalizes their symbol, they exit back to the editor with a ready to place symbol attached to their cursor.

 

 

 

Layout Editor

 

The layout editor at first glance also appears very much the same with a few new additions.  Nets are automatically labeled which reduce the likelihood of a user mistakenly taking an action on the wrong net.

Vias are also labeled with the layer numbers they go through.  This is a hugely valuable feature, but one that really only becomes important when the user is mixing blind and buried vias into their design.

 

Standard tools (Move/Select/Copy/Paste)

 

The standard tools that are carried over from the schematic editor behave the same.  Select has been changed to be slower to use just like the tool in the schematic editor.  Copy still doesn’t actually copy to the paste buffer.  All in all these tools are pretty much what you would expect.

 

Routing

The routing tool is of course one of the most important tools in the package, and there have been some definite changes to the tool.  One of the first things users will notice is the tool’s ability to “avoid obstacles”.

Like many other tools on the market, EAGLE can now automatically place a trace keeping it at DRC minimums around other nets and obstacles.  This feature can also be disabled using the modifiers on the tool bar.

I think this is a definite step in the right direction and hope this will lead to true push/shove routing in the future.

 

Like many of the other tools, there have also been some bugs introduced.  The most frustrating one I encountered had to do with placing vias and switching layers.  In previous versions users could place a via by shift + left clicking while laying a trace. The EAGLE 8 help guide also reflects this:

Unfortunately, shift click no longer works. Bang on the shift key as hard as you want, the via will never appear.  You can however place a via by pressing the space bar. After doing so, you may encounter more issues.  It appears that after placing a via, EAGLE will not allow you to change the layer.  This problem can be worked around, but does take some fiddling with to get right.

This is by far my biggest problem with this iteration of EAGLE.  Routing is critical and to have an issue of this magnitude is very concerning.

 

Delete

Somehow the delete command appears to have issues too.  It works fine when invoked from the toolbar on the side.  However, when a user tries to right click delete an item directly, nothing will happen.

 

 

Next

Previous versions of EAGLE would allow the user to select the next closest item to their cursor. This was a very necessary feature that allowed the user to select the item they wanted even when there were multiple item origins at the same location.  I was very disappointed to find that this feature is completely absent in version 8. I’m hoping this feature will be re-added in an update of EAGLE in the near future.

 

 

Conclusions

 

The past few years have been an interesting time for EAGLE, but I think it has finally found a good home at Autodesk.  It’s obvious that Autodesk is investing real resources to modernize and add long sought after features to the tool.  As with any engineering project, changes create bugs and this is certainly true in version 8.

 

I appreciate the direction EAGLE is headed, but fundamentals are key.  Many of the tools that users were used to have changed.  Core routing functionality is buggy at best.  Small problems like these cripple user experience and can leave a bad taste in the user’s mouth.  I’m sure Autodesk is aware of and working on fixing these bugs, but for the time being I plan to continue to use version 6.

 

One last thing:

 

Dear Autodesk,

I really like the direction you're taking EAGLE.  Please keep in mind though that you are maintaining a piece of software with decades worth of users.  As you make changes to KEY features, please document them!  I think many of us legacy users would greatly appreciate a migration guide.

Rock and Roll,

Trey

Anonymous
  • Hi Trey,

     

    As promised, here are the additional comments I had about your review. I meant to say previously, it's a good review, you did a nice job!

     

    Trey German wrote:

     

    Edit: I completed this RoadTest using version 8.1.1.  After I completed my review EAGLE version 8.2.0 was released which may or may not address some of the issues I discovered

    v8.2 and v8.2.1 have a bunch of issues so I would avoid trying these if I were you. They've also introduced a "Managed Libraries" feature which has some knock on implications for using the in built EAGLE libraries. I don't use the libraries which ship with EAGLE so I ignore these but annoyingly I can't turn the managed libraries feature off which I find a little annoying as I now can't completely get rid of all traces of these libraries from my EAGLE control panel.

     

    Anyway, that's a little bit off on a tangent....

     

    Trey German wrote:

     

    Design Block

    The feature I’m most excited about is the inclusion of hierarchical design.  EAGLE 8 implements this using what they call design blocks.  These are previously created schematics and optionally layouts that the user can instantiate like a single part.

    Design blocks and hierarchical design are actually separate things.

     

    Hierarchical design is provided by the "Module" feature implemented in v7. It works ok but it's got some serious drawbacks. Firstly, all reference designators in a module are the same across all instances of that module except they have a prefix, alternatively you can specify an offset to the reference designators so that when you place new instances they are incremented by the offset. The downside of the former is that reference designators can be very long and lead to an impossibly cluttered silkscreen, the downside of the latter is that you very quickly run into issues with reference designator conflicts. What they should be able to do is just number parts automatically just as if they were any other part being placed in the design, whilst maintaining hierarchy. The other big drawback is that the modularity stops with the schematic. It is not maintained in the layout and you cannot replicate the layout of identical blocks in the layout automatically.

     

    Design blocks solves the layout replication issue in that you can import and place the same design, including the detail of its layout multiple times. This is probably most useful when dropping down several version of pre-designed and proved power supply blocks or other similarly sized reusable blocks. However, design blocks is just a repackaging of the already existing facility to import an existing EAGLE design into another design to reuse its schematic/layout but it now has a nice GUI to enable design blocks to be created / navigated and added. The other downside is that once added, it loses it's link to the original so if the design block is updated it has to be deleted and reimported to wherever it is used.

     

    It would be nice if the design block was more integrated with the module feature so it appeared as a reuse block of which you could have multiple instances and it would be even better if it were able to maintain the link to its source block to it could be easily updated if the source block was updated, much like updated library parts can be updated in a design. You'd also want to be able to deal with importing a design block as a "module" and being able to change component values in the instance of the block so you could for example put down a number of identical DC-DC converters and change a few values for different voltages required on your board.

     

    I'm hoping some/all of the above issues will get addressed in future versions of EAGLE.

     

    Trey German wrote:

     

    Group Tool

    In previous versions of EAGLE, the select tool would default back to the previous tool after a selection was made. This allowed users to quickly take action on the items they had just selected.  In version 8 of EAGLE, the tool requires the user to manually change the tool after a selection has been made.  I think professional users of previous versions of the tool will miss this feature as it does increase productivity.

    This has been noted and raised as an issue on the Autodesk forums. I'm hoping this is one of the bugs which will be fixed when they release v8.2.2 as you are right, it really slows you down. Fingers crossed it's sorted out soon!

     

    Trey German wrote:

     

    Intersheet Movement

    Moving parts between schematic pages, has been difficult in EAGLE for ages.  I was hoping to see some improvement in this area, but there is still no intuitive way to do this.

    I'm not sure I follow here. Moving chunks of circuit or individual parts between pages is quick, it takes seconds. Here is the process:

     

    1. Click on the MOVE tool
    2. Click on the GROUP tool
    3. Select your group either by dragging a rectangle or clicking to create an irregular shape
    4. Cmd+right click (Ctrl on Windows/Linux) to quickly activate the move on the newly selected group
    5. Click on the schematic sheet you want to move the circuit to and everything will be attached to your cursor in that sheet.

     

    Trey German wrote:

     

    Feature Request:

    Power and ground symbols are trivial, but time consuming to make.  I’d like to propose a symbol creation tool/wizard built into the schematic editor that allows the user to pick a power or ground symbol and name the net associated with it.  When the user finalizes their symbol, they exit back to the editor with a ready to place symbol attached to their cursor.

    There is a ULP to help with that which works in the library. I agree it would be nice to be able to have standard symbols in the schematic which can just be added with the right name and net applied though. I suspect this is doable with ULP too. The existing ULP for helping create new power symbols in the library can be found here: http://eagle.autodesk.com/eagle/download/1934

     

    So I already told you about turning the "Group Mode Default On" option off above which I think will help you a lot so this about concludes my feedback. Sorry it's so long, I hope you don't mind me putting such a long load of additional stuff in the comments on your road test review....

     

    Best Regards,

     

    Rachael

  • Thanks Rachael!  I'll give that a try.

     

    Looking forward to your feedback.  I want to help make this tool the best it can be

     

    Trey

  • Very good report.

     

    I like someone who has history, knowledge and experience with both the tool and the process of designing circuits.

     

    As a non user, I look for tools that are easy to learn and use.  See the little subtle issues helps me assess time and effort needed should I wish to adopt a new tool.

     

    So thank you for your user perspective review.

     

    DAB

  • Hello,

     

    It's late here and I have a few bits of feedback on your review but most will have to wait until another day. One of the issues you raised about not being able to select the next item, you can put that back to the way it operated in v7 and earlier.

     

    If you go to the Misc tab of the Options->Set... dialog then uncheck "Group command default on" it will return the behaviour to almost v7 functionality. Hopefully you'll find this helps a lot

     

    Best Regards,

     

    Rachael

  • Hi,

    Thank you very much for the nice review.

    Yes it's a bit difficult to give a fundamental quote that describes with one word, or sentence, what a tool like Eagle can show.

    To much comparing with some other tools can going quickly unfair. All of them have their best and all of them have some of bad.

     

    A small wishing list: - mostly Router::

    ADD VERTEX - Eagle can do this (SPLIT)

    DELETE VERTEX - Eagle haven't implemented ("UNSPLIT") -> with this function you can make traces exact linear from point "A" - to - "B".

     

    PUSH-SHOVE traces during routing; walk around obstacles during routing is not enough.

    BUS-ROUTING

    MEANDER - it works not perfekt, a bit more flexible would be nice -> impedance controlled wires needs more flexible routing.

    // Actual, It is difficult starting meander routing.

     

    MEASURE and showing (with print out to paper for documenting) the exact wire length from A to B, not just segment length !!!! - most important for BUS, meander and impedance controlled wires.

    -> e.g. mainboard of a PC.

     

    And much more.... ok,ok one more:: library editor:

    flexible defining pads - as pad stacks; not combined with pad names, or values with huge letters.

     

    GRID - flexible definable GRID, e.g. more than one GRID in the dimension, routing area. Showing e.g. imperial also metric areas (island) on the same board.

     

    Thank you

    Best Regards,

    Gerald

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